Photo Credit: Fabrice Josaphat
We're introducing something new today. The Quick Read is a short Q&A with a writer. It might be about his or her reading habits or about the writer's thoughts on another author's work.
Our first Quick Read guest is Fabienne Josaphat. She was born and raised in Haiti and has an MFA in creative writing from Florida International University. She writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry as well as screenplays. Her work has been featured in several journals including Damselfly and The Caribbean Writer, and she has a novel coming out later on this year.
I recently sat down with Fabienne to discuss Jennine Capó Crucet's debut novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers. The novel tells the story of Lizet, a young Cuban-American woman from Miami who's accepted into a prestigious private college in New York. She's the first in her family to go to college, and she feels out of place there. She also increasingly feels out of place with her family.
Below is a lightly edited version of our conversation:
ReadMore: As a writer when you pick up a novel like this, what is the first thing you're looking for?
Fabienne: I mostly pick up a novel expecting to be entertained, and this novel definitely was entertaining. The characters right away just gripped me. The character of the father, the mother, Lizet herself, the main character, her sister and her boyfriend, Omar. The description of the characters but also how alive the characters are on the page that definitely hooked me right away.
ReadMore: Let's talk about Lizet. She's definitely a character you root for. She's such a striver. What were your impressions of her?
Fabienne: What I found interesting was how she evolved. I was attracted to her character because she's very relatable. She wants to prove herself to her family, but her family doesn't understand her. All of these things are relatable and make her a character that's three-dimensional. I can really relate to her even in her moments of indecision, her moments of anger, even in moments when she's in college talking to her roommates. The differences between her and the people around her in college was so well written and so good.
ReadMore: Jennine also uses Lizet's boyfriend, Omar, to point out steretypes, as well as differences between cultures and classes. The women on her floor make up these ugly stories about him, yet Lizet doesn't correct them.
Fabienne: I think that's one of the interesting sources of conflict that attracted me to this character. She is trying to find herself, and she is trying to define herself. It's really hard for her because she's in a place where she's trying to fit in, and so what answer do you give your roommate when your roommate asks you these questions. You don't want to disappoint them, so you don't want to give them the answer they're not expecting.
ReadMore: This novel also includes a fictionalized account of the Elián González saga. In this book, he becomes Ariel Hernandez, and the fight to keep him in Miami after his mom died trying to get him out of Cuba has a big impact on Lizet's family. Do you think it's risky for a novelist to include these real-life events in their work? Aren't you doing that in your novel?
Fabienne: Yes, I'm talking about the history of the 60s under the dictatorship of Papa Doc in Haiti. I'm sort of doing in a way what she's doing, bringing real-life events back into our time. You're flirting with danger in a way because you have an obligation to remain true to what happened, but you're also fictionalizing, so there's a very interesting dynamic happening there. But I lreally loved that she did that to anchor her characters. I think it's good to pool elements from history and weave them into novels. It makes it interesting because we all want to relive these moments that maybe we wanted to be a part of it, but we couldn't be.
Fabienne's first novel in English, Dancing in the Baron's Shadow, is forthcoming in February, so please check back for an upcoming edition of the ReadMore podcast about that. And, you can find out more about Make Your Home Among Strangers by listening to the ReadMore podcast interview with Jennine Capó Crucet.